The Countdown to the festive season has started and tonight is the beginning of a weekend of three gigs in three days for me. All of them are related in some way to York’s most famous prog-rock giants Mostly Autumn, so this weekend can only be described in one way – Mostly Awesome!!
Tonight there’s three of us (just not quite the usual three) attending the Duchess for one of a very limited series of shows for which Mostly’s Bryan Josh has put a band together to perform his 2008 solo(ish) album Through These Eyes. More of that later.
First up, however, were Parade. Chris Johnson has been a busy boy since the last time I saw him perform. Not only has he put together this band, featuring Anne-Marie Helder, Gavin Griffiths, Simon Snaize, Patrick Berry and Chris himself (basically the band seems to be one possible outcome of a crash involving the tour buses of Panic Room and Hazzard County) but he has also managed to write, produce and release the band’s debut CD, The Fabric. This is the band’s second live show together (the first was also supporting Josh and Co) and I’m going to set my stall out straight away and say that they were superb.
The music was guitar-and-keyboard rock and the influences were probably many but while certain things were vaguely tugging at the dark recesses of my memory, very little results were forthcoming. Roj described the ending of one song (The Diamond, I think) as “like the dark chocolate version of Fleetwood Mac, while the lyric style of Cut reminded me a little of something by The Beautiful South. What was impressive was the diversity of material – no two songs sounded the same and they all sounded brilliant. With Anne-Marie and Chris switching around between lead vocals, guitar and keyboards (for one song both played keyboards, for another they both played guitar) and with Bryan Josh himself replacing Simon for one song, there was enough variety to keep even the most jaded music fan happy.
There’s no doubt that the band is made up of some very talented musicians and the songs showcased that those talents – Simon produced some excellent guitar work, Gavin was brilliant on drums, it goes without saying that Anne-Marie’s voice was stunning and, it has to be said, Paddy’s bass-playing was leagues above what he ever did with Hazzard County. I have implied in a previous posting that Chris Johnson might have thought himself too good or too big for some of the acts he has previously worked with. I suspect he may have found his place as frontman for Parade. Not only does it allow a release for his undoubted creativity but, if they can perform this well so early in the band’s career, there is a good possibility that the band can go on to bigger things. The only problem is, possibly, the commitments some of the members already have. While Paddy had dropped off my radar since the last time I saw the Hazzards, I believe that Simon is working on an album of his own. Gavin is drummer with Panic Room, Fish and played on the first Josh & Co album (of which there are supposed to be more to come) and Anne-Marie already performs with Panic Room, Mostly Autumn and solo (and there really should be a solo album sometime soon).
Personally, on the strength of tonight’s performance, I hope they manage to find time to work together again. This was a very entertaining opening act and one that I would have been more than happy with if they had been the headline. I even bought the CD. On first impression, although I’ve only managed to listen it through once, at varying volumes and in the car, the live act seems to do what it should do with the recorded material. That is expand it and give the musicians a chance to cut loose. Hopefully, a fuller review will follow if and when I get time. In the meantime, however, it is my fervent hope that this Parade managed to avoid the rain for quite some time.
Strangely, when Josh & Co took to the stage, there was very little change in line-up. Ian Jennings had replaced Anne-Marie on keyboards, Bryan Josh had replaced Simon Snaize on guitar and Livvy Sparnenn was there to provide backing vocals. On the album, Bryan plays everything but the drums (and flute on one track).
The album itself, which came very close to being my favourite release of last year, deals with the idea that you can push your dreams back out through your eyes and step into the resulting dimension to meet the inhabitants of your dreams. Verging on a concept album, the songs relate Bryan’s adventures in that dimension until he finds the one person who can bring him home (Livvy, I assume…)
That being the case, it’s hard to perform the album without doing it all the way through and in the order the tracks were released on the album. So, as an introduction and as the band took to the stage we got what I assume was a recording of Merry She Goes. Then Bryan introduced the ideas and launched directly into Land Of The Gods and The Appian Way. What followed was an almost word for work performance of the album from beginning to end.
I say “almost”. There were some small differences like different words during Through These Eyes (the original doesn’t have a reference to Lee Van Cleef sticking his pistol up Hitler’s backside…) and the “super-band” introduced at the end of that track was missing John Entwhistle and Freddie Mercury. However, Jimi Hendrix and John Bonham were introduced, which led to cover versions of All Along The Watchtower and Rock and Roll (the latter with Livvy on vocals, harking back to her guest appearances with Freeway). There was an extra song, which I didn’t recognise from the album and, in hindsight, I think one or two tracks may have been left out of the performance. We did, however, get a second (sing-along) rendition of The Appian Way by way of a sort of encore (the band didn’t actually leave the stage).
The songs themselves showcase Bryan’s unquestioned poetic heart and, while there is undoubtedly a resemblance to the output of Mostly Autumn, his solo work shows what can happen when his creativity isn’t tempered a bit by Heather Findlay, producing in places a harder edge to the songs.
This was, as expected, an excellent performance that was well received by the audience. Overall, a brilliant start to the weekend